Arjon had never been to Pok Pok, so after spending most of the day driving around the wineries of Willamette Valley, we decided to make the restaurant/shack our destination for a late lunch (or an early dinner, depending how you look at it). Pok Pok’s menu features Thai and Vietnamese street food, covering cuisines and flavors that both Keith and I love. It was definitely one of the spots we didn’t want to miss while in Portland.
The plates at Pok Pok are made to share; in fact, family-style dining is encouraged. None of us were dying of hunger, so we only selected a few dishes so that we could have a mini-sampler. So many options caught our attention; I was most curious about the Yam Khai Dao, described as a “salad of crispy fried egg,Thai chilies, Chinese celery, onions and carrot with lime, palm sugar and fish sauce dressing.” After some deliberation, we narrowed the sizable menu to two plates to split, along with two portions of sticky rice ($2.00 each); Arjon also had some Khao Soi Kai, a curry noodle soup from Chiang Mai.
Once I saw this on the menu, I insisted on ordering it, as it sounded so incredibly enticing: Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings ($11.00). I love fish sauce, so I knew I would have to have a taste of this chicken. The wings are marinated in palm sugar and my beloved fish sauce, then deep fried. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, the wings get tossed in even more fish sauce, along with some garlic, then served with a salad and what I think were pickled radishes. According to the menu, this concoction is courtesy of one of Pok Pok’s grill cooks, who brought the recipe to Portland from his home in Vietnam. As I ate my first wing, I couldn’t help but think that my perfect day would include a never-ending supply of this chicken, then perhaps a nap. Decorum prevented me from hoarding the plate, but only just barely.
We knew we wanted to try the Kai Yaang, one of Pok Pok’s signature dishes, even though we had already chosen a poultry plate. This one was a charcoal-roasted game hen that’s been stuffed with lemongrass, garlic and cilantro, then served with a two different dipping sauces, one sweet and spicy and the other sour. Since we were saving room for a late dinner, we only went with a half-bird ($6.50 for a half, $11.00 for a whole). If you’ve got an appetite, go for the whole bird; this plate is a signature for a reason. Street food or not, it’s refined and highly flavorful.
In a way, I’m strangely glad that we don’t have a Pok Pok or equivalent around the corner from my house or down the street from my office. Don’t get me wrong — the food is fantastic, and I’d love to sit at one of the many outdoor tables again and again. What I wouldn’t love would be my steadily-increasing pant size, because the one thing that is almost impossible to do as a diner at Pok Pok is show restraint.
3226 SE Division Street
Portland, Oregon 97202